Not least among the awesome accomplishments of cancer survivor-cyclist extraordinaire Lance Armstrong is this: He leaves his sport the way few champions of any sport have ever departed. He leaves at the absolute pinnacle.
Think of Hank Aaron not hitting his weight in his last year with the Milwaukee Brewers. Think of Willie Mays staggering under a fly ball as a New York Met. Think of Joe Louis fighting eroded skills to make a dent in his IRS debts. Think of a rope-burned Muhammad Ali looking lethargic against nonentities.
There’s something about a few more fat paychecks. There’s something about leaving center stage.
Armstrong belongs in that tiny pantheon of very special, gifted athletes who didn’t wait to be compromised by time, the ultimate opponent. Think Jim Brown at his peak. Think Sandy Koufax still dominating. Think Rocky Marciano without a loss. Think Ted Williams hitting a home run in his last at bat.
Granted, cycling isn’t football, baseball or boxing. In fact, not even close. But a champion is a champion. And he had to beat metastasized cancer before he could win seven Tours de France.
We’ll not see his kind again.